NEW YORK – Los Angeles Rams owner Stan Kroenke may be trying to backtrack on his promise to cover tens of millions of dollars in legal expenses related to his team’s departure from St. Louis in 2016, a revelation that angered many NFL owners when they found out about that Tuesday, sources told ESPN.
NFL attorney general Jeff Pash’s legal update during the owners’ first in-person meeting since December 2019 surprised many in the room, according to accounts from people who were there and others briefed on the proceedings.
The league, through a spokesperson, declined to comment Wednesday. A spokesman for the Rams also declined to comment.
The Rams and other owners are embroiled in a fierce four-year lawsuit by the St. Louis Regional Convention and Sports Complex authority, which argues the league broke its own relocation guidelines, misled the public about its plans to leave. the city and cost the city millions in revenue. The league has lost many of its motions and was denied a hearing in the United States Supreme Court.
The case has entangled all 32 teams and cost millions in legal fees, most of which have thus far been covered by Kroenke under a severance agreement he signed as part of the relocation. For some teams, the bills are eight figures.
Although Kroenke has been in discussions with the league for some time about the scope of the severance agreement, the owners first learned of a change in their position several hours after Tuesday’s meeting at the Intercontinental New York Barclay hotel. Sources told ESPN that executives from each team were asked to leave the room; Only owners, representatives of teams that did not send owners and top league executives remained.
Pash provided an extensive update on the lawsuit, including the league’s latest argument that the trial scheduled for January should be moved out of St. Louis to obtain an impartial jury.
Sources told ESPN that Kroenke stood up and told the room that he had invested in the league and done everything the league asked him to do. He apologized for the ongoing lawsuit, but argued that it was not his fault.
Kroenke answered a few questions from the room. Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, a fierce Kroenke defender who championed the relocation and helped carry her to the goal during a contentious vote in January 2016, told the room that Kroenke had done a lot for the league.
Then, in an unusual move, Goodell asked Kroenke to leave the room, sources told ESPN. He did.
It was then that Pash told the room that Kroenke’s attorneys notified the league that Kroenke is challenging the severance agreement that the three teams involved in the Los Angeles derby in 2016, the Rams, Chargers and Raiders, signed on the tomorrow of the vote.
Over the years, teams have been required to provide eight years of phone and email records for discovery. Last summer, St. Louis Circuit Judge Christopher McGraugh ordered Kroenke and five other homeowners to provide financial records to help the jury determine possible damages. In early October, McGraugh fined Clark Hunt of the Kansas City Chiefs, John Mara of the New York Giants, Robert Kraft of the New England Patriots and Jones of the Cowboys for not providing complete records. Kroenke has been paying almost all the bills.
Sources said the courtroom seemed surprised by Pash’s update on Kroenke’s opinion on the severance deal.
Jones spoke and reminded colleagues that Kroenke has been a good partner, engineering the league’s return to Los Angeles after 22 years out and building a stadium that some involved in its construction refer to as “our $ 6,000 stadium. millions”.
Then came Kraft, who according to sources seemed to speak for many in the room that Kroenke’s position was unfair. He mentioned all the legal hassles he had been through. In 2016, he served on a Los Angeles committee of six. He argued that if providing financial records as a result of lawsuits were a consequence of serving on league committees, it would deter other owners from wanting to sit on committees and make important decisions for the league.
Raiders owner Mark Davis reminded the room that, in 2016, the Los Angeles committee recommended a rival Raiders-Chargers stadium project in Carson, California, by a 5-1 vote on Kroenke’s project in Inglewood.
Mara spoke next and said that Kroenke’s position change was ridiculous, and that if Kroenke had not agreed to indemnify the league, the owners would not have voted for him to move. He said anyone who was in the room in Houston when the vote took place would know.
Sources said Jones argued that he has also been dealing with legal issues, noting that the issues weren’t the fault of Kroenke or the league, but because an owner’s statement was unstable. The name of that owner was not mentioned.
But in 2019, an ESPN report on the Rams-Chargers marriage detailed that the discovery in the lawsuit had yielded an email from an official affiliated with Carson’s competitive proposal describing to St. Louis authorities all the ways in which the Rams appeared to be in violation. of the league’s relocation policy, providing a blueprint for the City of St. Louis lawsuit.
A source close to Kroenke now says that the Rams owner believes some of the legal issues stem from that email, and that after building the stadium and agreeing to host the Chargers as a tenant for $ 1 a year, it shouldn’t be responsible for all legal fees.
Jones and Pash had a brief back and forth, and then Jones asked Pash if Kroenke had tried to settle the lawsuit.
Pash answered yes, sources told ESPN. Jones indicated that Kroenke’s liquidation figure was in the billions of dollars. Pash declined to confirm the figure, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told ESPN it was less than a billion, but told meeting attendees it was more than the net worth of some in the room.
Sources later described several owners speaking.
Jim Irsay of the Indianapolis Colts said owners should call Kroenke back to the room and answer questions from members. Jones argued that Kroenke shouldn’t do it without an attorney.
Art Rooney II of the Pittsburgh Steelers said attorneys must handle all of these matters. Mara then reiterated that no one in the room would have voted for Kroenke to move if it weren’t for full severance.
At one point, sources told ESPN, Jones seemed to indicate that Kroenke could sue the league over the severance settlement. He mentioned that, in 1995, the league sued him for endorsement deals and he responded.
The lawsuit, currently in the discovery phase, is due to be judged on January 10, 2022, weeks before Kroenke’s SoFi Stadium will host the Super Bowl.
Other topics during the exclusive session for owners included a discussion on the emails that have recently been posted regarding the investigation of workplace misconduct by the Washington soccer team.
Davis, who accepted Jon Gruden’s resignation after emails from 2011 showed that the coach had used racist, anti-gay and misogynistic language, asked Goodell why he had only learned about the emails just before to be made public.
Although Davis did not accuse Goodell of leaking the emails, Goodell told the room that the league was not behind the leak. And Tanya Snyder, wife of WFT owner Dan Snyder, apologized to the fourth the league has suffered as a result of the investigation.